OAKLAND -- The federal judge who will decide the fate of Oakland's embattled police department ordered the city to begin settlement negotiations with attorneys seeking an outside receiver with powers to dismiss department brass.
Citing several areas of mutual agreement, including the need for additional court intervention in Oakland's police department, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ordered the settlement talks and gave both sides until Nov. 29 to file a joint statement outlining their areas of agreement.
Henderson has scheduled a Dec. 13 hearing on a receivership motion brought by the attorneys who represented plaintiffs in the decade-old Riders police corruption case.
That case ended in a settlement that required the police department to accept federal monitoring and institute dozens of reforms. The reforms were to have been completed four years ago, but several still have not been fully implemented.
If a receiver is appointed, Oakland would become the first U.S. city to lose substantial power over its police department.
A key sticking point remains whether a federal receiver would have the power to discipline and fire Howard Jordan, the police chief, and his command staff.
The city has refused to surrender that authority, while attorneys for the plaintiffs say the city has failed to hold department brass responsible for the Riders case and subsequent scandals.
"I cannot have our clients or our future clients subjected to the kind of mass harassment that goes on at OPD because the command staff is not doing its job," attorney Jim Chanin said.
Chanin added that he only would reconsider the receivership proposal if city leaders reverse course and take verifiable steps to make police department commanders fully accountable. "I need something close to a guarantee that these kinds of systemic problems won't continue," he said.
Mayor Jean Quan said in a prepared statement that the city has looked forward to negotiations and that all parties shared the same goals: "timely compliance with the remaining reform tasks to achieve constitutional policing and a healthy, strong relationship between police and the people of Oakland."
In his four-page order, Henderson did not appear enthused about the city's proposal to forgo a receiver and instead hire an assistant chief in charge of constitutional policing and a court-approved compliance director responsible for fully implementing the required reforms.
Henderson wrote that the city could have sought to add the assistant chief position earlier if it were crucial for reforming the department. "Either the position is unnecessary and would result in wasted resources," Henderson wrote, "or it is necessary and the failure to adopt such a position earlier indicates a lack of leadership or will."
As for the compliance director, Henderson wrote that the creation of such a post was a tacit acknowledgment by the city that "that current leadership ... is incapable, without the court's further intervention, of finally getting the department into compliance."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.